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Friday, January 11, 2008

Why we like a photo to the editor

Letters to the editor have been a mainstay of newspapers since the very beginning. The digital revolution has made letter writing as easy as sending an e-mail. The digital revolution has another offspring, the photo to the editor.

For years, newspapers have regularly published photographs submitted by businesses, schools and organizations. We do as well.

Recently we've seen a rise in the number of photographs like these taken by citizens out and about in their communities.

This week, for example, is the bowing snowman. The series is on page 3A of Sunday's paper.

Dan Roeda/Contributor
Jordan Joeda's snowman that bowed in the back yard of his family’s Delavan home.


In recent weeks we've also published photographs from our readers of the frozen benches near the boat launch in Lake Geneva, as well as photos from two different readers of the pier on Delavan Lake that became embedded in ice and floated off into the middle of the lake.

Sue Laesch, who took one of those photos, says the pier came from a "newbie" across the lake who apparently didn't know they should be removed for the winter.

She cautions snowmobilers to be careful if the ice thickens up again and the pier hasn't sunk to the bottom.

The trend in the newspaper business is called citizen journalism.

Typically, daily newspapers have promoted citizen journalism as a way to leverage the interactivity of their Web sites.

The newspapers say it's a way to stay more fully connected with their readers.

The cynics say it's because content from citizen journalists costs nothing to produce and is easy to publish online. It also escapes the same journalistic scrutiny for accuracy that staff reports do.

In either case, there is a good way and bad way to use it.

We've always given reader contributions a priority at The Week, and bucking conventional methods, most of it is published in our print edition, not solely online.

There are occasions where the unlimited space on Web sites is a benefit. For example, we published two extensive photo galleries last week.

One was of the devastation caused by the tornado that touched down in Kenosha County this past week.

The other was a Web-only photo essay by staff photographer Terry Mayer of ice fishing on Delavan Lake.

For readers interested in citizen photojournalism projects, make note of the New York Times Polling Place Photo Project.

It is a nationwide experiment in citizen journalism that encourages voters to capture, post and share photographs of this year's primaries, caucuses and general election. We've posted a link on our Web site.

I remain confident that citizen journalists won't completely replace those of us who do it full time, but it's easy to see how their contributions make the coverage of communities even richer and more compelling.

If you've taken a photograph that you'd like to share, e-mail it to us at theweek@theweekextra.com

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